Just get out: Palestine’s Jerusalem MPs

By The Economist – 12 Aug 2010

The Israeli authorities try to expel Hamas’s MPs from East Jerusalem

HAMAS members of parliament who live in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem have not only lost their jobs, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) closed down their legislature; they are also losing their homes.

Perhaps they were too successful. Four years ago a more conciliatory Israeli government let East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, including Hamas, compete in the Palestinian legislative elections. Though still banned as a terrorist outfit, Hamas swept all four of East Jerusalem’s contested seats in the Palestinian parliament.

In the wake of Hamas’s triumph, Israel’s authorities imposed fines worth thousands of dollars for plastering campaign posters in the wrong places. Five months on, in retaliation for Hamas capturing an Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, they sent the men to jail. And on their release more than three years later, Israel declared them illegal residents and gave them 30 days to get out. Appeals that their families had lived in the city for generations fell on deaf ears. In June, one of them was jailed, prompting two others and a former Hamas minister who is also from the city to seek refuge in the Jerusalem offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

If Israel’s latest order to deport the Hamas MPs was intended to curb support for the movement, it has failed. An array of prominent figures—from Hamas’s rival Fatah group, from the worlds of business, diplomacy and the church, even from anti-Zionist Orthodox Jewry—have flocked to the Red Cross’s doors to offer solidarity. On Fridays the street outside doubles as an open-air mosque. The Hamas MPs, hitherto minor figures, have become celebrities.

They are popular partly because they are seen as symbols of a shared plight. The Jerusalem Centre for Social and Economic Rights, a Palestinian human-rights outfit, says that Israel, since occupying the city in 1967, has stripped more than 14,000 native Palestinians of their residency rights, including a good 5,000 in the past two years. Israel usually cites security reasons or says that after an absence of five years Palestinians lose their right to reside. This time it is expelling the Hamas MPs for disloyalty to the occupying state. Sensing a common threat, even a Christian MP from a rival faction voices support for the Hamas men. “Today Fatah is OK,” he says. “But who will defend us when it’s not?”

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